Because the Pipeline fight here in Minnesota continues, and final Public Comments are due tomorrow, this week’s blog is my submitted commentary.  I encourage you to send a comment.  Feel free to plagiarize from my message below.  You can send them to Scott Ek at  publicadvisor.puc@state.mn.us.  Deadline is 4:30 PM on Tuesday, February 27th.

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Dear Mr. Ek,

Thank you for all you do.  It has been good to have your support in understanding the Enbridge Line 3 Proposal process and I thank you for your hard hours of work with the PUC in this effort.

This letter is in support of finding that the FEIS continues to be Inadequate.

Having watched (some parts many times over) the December 7th PUC Meeting, I have gained some understandings from those proceedings.  I will admit that, with all the legalese, the proceedings were often difficult for this everyday citizen to follow.  However, these ideas seemed clear to me.

  • Scott Strand, from the Environmental Law and Policy Center and representing the Friends of the Headwaters, noted that, sending the EIS back so we can do better is good. However, the information in the EIS is required for the public engagement process.  This is not simply a document for the Commission to perform a review of the environmental concerns in order to make their decisions.  It is a document that allows for the public to engage in the process.  It matters that we limit the ability of the public to be engaged in this process.  We cannot defer aspects to the permitting stage.  The information must be in the EIS for the public to be able to review what is happening and how it will affect citizens, including the citizens of the future.
  • Paul Blackburn, Attorney for Honor The Earth, noted that the way Enbridge has managed the approval process, along with the Army Corps of Engineers – who have been quite silent about their part in the process, has allowed for the concerns on the Cultural Resources issues to “slip through the cracks”… even though they were brought up as concerns by Indigenous People as long ago as 2014.  Without including Cultural Survey information earlier than “before construction begins”, there is no possibility for public comment or review with regard to any Cultural Survey information, let alone for the parties to be able to file briefs on this topic. The Commissioners seemed to indicate that THEIR review of any of this information would be sufficient and the public’s view was irrelevant.  Based on statements and actions, it would seem that the PUC may often feel that the public’s input is not necessary.  This was notably demonstrated by the cancelled and un-rescheduled St. Cloud Public Meeting on the original FEIS.
  • When Commissioner Lipshultz mentioned that there were possible missing elements or things that could be moved or expanded to make the FEIS as reasonable as possible to absorb, Ms. Miltich of the DOC-EERA said they would bring together the information that is in different areas, they would bring them together for the PUC. Commissioner Lipshultz indicated that “more clarity” for the PUC and the parties would be appreciated.  He later said, when proposing his motion, the information should be “not misleading and as clear as possible to minimize risk of misleading the PUC as decision makers”.
  • Finally, Commissioner Katie Sieben closed the day saying that the testimony showed evidence of the variations on how the data was interpreted with respect to the existing Line 3 corridor and she looked forward to the information being filed as it would help them make a better decision.

In reviewing the Final EIS Revision and associated documents, I found still some things are not in place to allow full public transparency.  One example:

I reported to Daniel Wolf on 12/8/2017, that the Part 2 video for the 12/7/17 meeting was not linked on the calendar page for access, yet this situation has not been remedied.  This again makes it appear that the PUC does NOT want to assure the public can easily stay involved in these proceedings.  This link: https://minnesotapuc.legistar.com/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=575165&GUID=CFC7D38F-3BED-45D1-8D68-DEA2F45ABCCC&Options=info&Search only has access to the Part 1 portion of the video, not the Part 2 portion where the decisions were finalized.  Call me nit-picky but I believe full public access should be accommodated and, when brought to the attention of the PUC that it is not, that it should be rectified immediately.  Else, the impression is that only those who pay to play are truly invited to be included and those of us outside those circles are left to scrap together what we can with extra efforts.  This is a downfall of our Democracy, not giving more full access to the proceedings of our government.  While this is a bigger topic for another forum, it is a part of why this Line 3 decision-making process is inherently unfair to the average public citizen.

Other examples are the way much of the documentation for the case is written in legalese and not commonly understood language and the inability of citizens to access the transcripts for some proceedings.  I am grateful that we have many groups in opposition to this effort by Enbridge; groups that do have legal counsel and scientists.  But the public is also made up of scientists and lawyers and we are also concerned for our environment, our children, and our grandchildren’s grandchildren.  We should be given every opportunity to access and understand the information that can affect our future as residents of Minnesota.

According to the PUC, the requirements of remedying Inadequacy must have addressed the following (referred to as items 1a-1d in most PUC documents):

PUC 1a-d

In a letter dated 2/12/18 to Daniel Wolf from John Wachtler, DOC-EERA Director, the EERA readily admits that, after review with MNDNR and MNPCA, “No viable routes were identified that entirely avoid karst”.  He does concede, with regard to item 1a that there ARE routes that totally avoid karst but that the “technical staff” did not deem them worthy of further consideration.  It doesn’t appear to me that the people doing this analysis are very good at looking outside the box.  There are an infinite number of possible routes that could be considered to avoid karst.  While some may consider the presented information to be a best effort, by the EERA’s own words they FAILED to fully address the request of the PUC.  But perhaps this is as good as the PUC will require.

[I will note that the quality of the figures presented in Appendix U did not allow zooming in to clearly see details, another deterrent to the general public to be able to accurately evaluate the EIS information.  Finally, all the data presented in Appendix U appeared to me to be a bunch of random numbers on a page.  Without verbiage associated with each table, it is impossible to clearly understand not only what is being presented, but what the ramifications of this information might be.]

Items 1b & 1c were so complex and massive that it is impossible for this average citizen to fully evaluate in full the information in the EIS, especially in light of the fact that the flash drive I received arrived on February 22nd, just days before comments were due.   There was verbiage in the Revised FEIS which denoted that the issues are complex and all text and tables should be used to comprehend the issue.  However, I do not see evidence of specific “here is the current scenario” and “here is how the addition of a NEW Line 3 will impact with data”… as seemed to be requested at the 12/7/17 meeting.

Here is an example of a paragraph (from page 5-114):

No single one of the datasets listed above provides a complete indication of all relevant impacts to wetlands. Together, though, these datasets provide a reasonably comprehensive indication of the potential impacts. For example, counts of NWI wetland acres impacted do not consider the unique sensitivities of certain wetland communities. However, data from the calcareous fen database can aid the reader in understanding the extent of potential impacts on these unique and highly sensitive areas.

Furthermore, the quantitative information from the analysis of these datasets should be coupled the qualitative descriptions of impacts that are contained in the text. Tables in this section provide counts, for example, of acres of wetland within the ROI and a general assessment of the duration and magnitude of potential impacts; however, a more complete discussion of the qualitative nature of impacts that could occur to different types of wetlands is contained in the text of this section.

What this seems to be is a re-iteration of Ms. Miltich’s words during the 12/7/17 meeting, namely that all the information is in the report, you just have to search for it.  Thus, rather than making clear the data, as Commissioner Lipschultz requested and Commissioner Sieban was anticipating, it seems that the DOC-EERA has simply taken an easy route of re-saying what was indicated during the meeting, that finding and comprehending the information was not easy but was possible.  Their Revised FEIS shows that there wasn’t much more they would do other than say, again, that this is so.

It is not until over 175 pages into the section, when I come across Table that there was some minimal additional clarification verbiage that seems to show an effort to provide additional input to help “minimize risk of misleading the PUC as decision makers” as Commissioner Lipschultz requested in his 12/7/17 motion regarding Inadequacy.  However, I also noted that these few comments appear to be mainly a result of the additions necessary for item 1a of the same PUC request for revision due to FEIS Inadequacy.

Item 1d was the simplest correction that could be made of the four requested of the DOC-EERA by the PUC.  And, indeed, there are clear statements in and denoting that a Cultural Survey will be done prior to construction.  Check and mark.  However, as was made clear many times during the 12/7/17 meeting, though subsequently disparaged and disregarded by the Commissioners of the PUC, this is a violation of the Rights of the Indigenous to have their concerns considered with regard to the determination in the Certificate of Need.  And it is a disregard of the need for the public to be informed of this information and to provide their input on the issues.

I watched as Dakota Access moved forward with their work in North Dakota showing no regard for Cultural Heritage.  I don’t wish that kind of trauma on anyone.  And regardless of this verbiage being included in the EIS, I don’t quite trust that Enbridge will hold to the requirement.  It seems their standard protocol is “it’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission.”  It is not a stretch to imagine Enbridge moving forward and afterward blaming it on an administrative error.

“Oops!  Sorry! But since we already have this work done, we’ll just leave it in place.”

There have already been disturbances in Minnesota of cultural sites.  Enbridge and the State of Minnesota have already ignored requirements for the permitting for pipeline staging yards.  And Enbridge has already built the Canada and Wisconsin legs of the pipeline path they are pursuing in Minnesota, indicating that this WILL be done, regardless of what Minnesota’s PUC decides.  These are among the many reasons the public has reason to doubt the integrity of the process and the promises.

As I continued to read the EIS to comb through all the data, I continued to find what seem to be shortcuts in the EIS that prevent full evaluation of the proposal, things that, given time and a geologist’s background, I might be able to better unravel.  For example, this line from page 5-30:

Temporary and minor impacts on groundwater quality could occur from small leaks and spills, as discussed above for the Applicant’s proposed project. If any contaminated soils or groundwater are encountered during construction they would be handled and disposed of in accordance with applicable regulations; the Environmental Protection Plan; and a Contaminated Soils Management Plan, which the Applicant would develop prior to construction. The plan would describe site assessment and response actions that would be implemented to manage contaminated soils and groundwater (Enbridge 2016a).”

It would seem to be that a full environmental impact analysis would include having details on the Enbridge’s Contaminated Soils Management Plan, which does not currently exist and thus cannot be evaluated by the public.

While I comprehend that this specific commentary is outside the scope of what the PUC is currently seeking, I believe it provides evidence of the enormity of the data and how it undermines the ability of the average citizen to evaluate it for comprehension, let alone to use it to provide a thorough response.

There has been no evidence to date showing that Minnesota refiners, or any refiners in the region, have been unable to secure enough crude oil to meet their demand without a new Line 3 pipeline.  The forecasts are for a steadily decreasing need for crude oil, not the steady increases Enbridge would like us to believe.  If we are to meet the agreements for mitigating climate change, most sensible humans comprehend that this demands less, not more, fossil fuel usage.  We have seen no evidence for a net economic benefit that this new Line 3 pipeline will bring but ample evidence of the cost to Minnesotans should failure occur.  In addition, we have had no commitment to assure that, should failure occur, Enbridge will be held accountable for the physical and financial liabilities.  Enbridge already holds the record for largest inland oil spill in the U.S. and it was right here in Minnesota.  We have no insurance policy that Minnesota tax payers will not be left holding the bag when this new Line 3 pipeline fails, which all pipelines do eventually. The Tar Sands pipeline in our neighboring state took just 7 years to have a massive failure of 210,000 barrels spilled.

The PUC must determine that this project is a No-Win for Minnesota.

The need for both endless fossil fuels and military-style assault rifles, are rapidly being revealed as the fallacies they have been for some time.  As our children will be the most affected by a possibility of a Tar Sands pipeline in their midst, I believe we must consider their best interests as a top priority.  And as they become more outspoken, like those teens at Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, Minnesota may realize that they too are on the wrong end of history if a Certificate of Need and Permit are issued for this New Line 3 pipeline. It is NOT in the best interest of our children to put a Tar Sands pipeline through Minnesota’s watersheds.

Thank you for your consideration.

Jami Gaither